The Congress itself puts a pressure


Interview with President of International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Souhayr Belhassen before the start of the Congress

Yesterday you had meetings with relatives of victims of March 1 event and and wives of political prisoners. What impact the meeting had on you and what perspectives do you see regarding this issue?

The meetings yesterday were extremely emotional and I saw many dramatic moments. I again felt that the victims were 20-30 year old, and the pain of these people is still with them. I understand that the only thing which will comfort these people is justice, which finally should be found and it is the justice we should reach.  I want to confirm that FIDH will do all possible that March 1 events are revealed.

Why did you initiate these meetings? What are you going to do, what will be your first steps after these meetings?

I have a commitment: in every country I visit, the first thing I do I want to meet prisoners, political prisoners and their families, and this is the reason I met them in Armenia. Another reason is that it is the government who let us to have meetings with prisoners or victims of torture. Our voice reaches the point faster, and we succeed in releasing people from the prison. I do not have much time to meet all and the idea was to meet with their families, to listen to them and to understand and document once more that they should be immediately released. When I say to make our voice to be heard I mean also the Congress which starts today in Yerevan, where more than 300 participants will be and this question will be raised in front of human rights defenders from different countries to deliver the message.

In your last declaration you urged the government and expressed a hope that you will see Armenia without political prisoners when the Congress starts.  However, as you see they are still kept in prison. Will you raise this issue again in your meeting with the President today?

Absolutely.  I will certainly talk with him about this restating our demand to release political prisoners, and to reveal circumstances of the death of victims of March 1 events, about justice and freedom of speech situation in Armenia.

The relatives of victims of March1 and political prisoners have expectations from the Congress.  What expectations do you have in this term, especially after the meeting with the President?  Do you have concerns about effectiveness of the Congress in this term?

In any case we cannot predict what will happen and what the President will do, but we should use this opportunity to do our work. At the meeting there will be highly respectable participants and their voice will raise a big resonance.  The pressure of the Congress will be high, I am not alone in this case. A significant number of human rights defenders are with us, and our pressure will be huge. This is what we can do.

Before your arrival local human rights organizations, citizens and public activists had applied to make changes in the agenga of the FIDH Congress. The media also continuously refered to this issue. What kind of changes were made?

The agenda was known for a long time, and in preparation of the agenda we consulted with our partner Civil Society Institute.  Of course, some changes were made, because every agenda is preliminary and it had amendments.   And because many well-known people would have speeches at the Congress, we had amendments, some people refused to have a speech and some people were included in the agenda.

I mean the local human rights defenders, about whom was the main issue. It is known that only Artak Kirakosyan, the Chairman of the Board was provided with that opportunity.

It is very important for us that Artak Kirakosyan has the first speech.  It means that the first opportunity of the speech is given to a human rights organization. He will talk from the human rights position and will put his seal. I want to re-confirm and remind that the Congress is open to all. People can be registered and confirm their participation, and the opportunity for speach and discussion is provided on the following days of the forum.

What is your opinion about refusal of the RA Ombudsman to confirm his speech in the forum.  Moreover, he said that the Congress had a negative impact already: «Before we had several organizations that worked togather and now their union is broken.»

Recently I had several meetings with the Ombudsman, including in Paris.  His only request was that he has a speech not at the plenary sessions but at the opening ceremony.  This was his direct demand to give him a speech at the opening ceremony.  However, the agenda was very rigid, and we did not have such an opportunity.

In your opinion, what was the reason that the human rights forum caused so much rising and talks? The main protest was that mostly the government representatives will speak at the Forum?  

I believe that it is normal, because it is a very big event.  It would be strange if it caused indifference.  This is a positive and not negative signal. It is principal for us to work with authorities, because it is them with whom we can raise issues and who can solve these issues. We do not have any other opponent.  However, we give an opportunity to civil society and in some cases, their weak voice will become very loud in the framework of the Congress.

On the one hand, the protests are heard, and on the other hand, people have great expectations from this Congress, especially those who had meetings with you and became inspired by you. It seems that their hopes increased in terms of expectations.

There is always hope.  If we had no hope, what we have to do here? I want us to be realistic.  The fact of the Congress being held in Yerevan already makes a pressure. I hope that we would not be disaapointed and our pressure will reach its result.

Interview by Zhanna Alexanyan